Mobile Hotspots Keep You Connected

A look at how these wireless access points function at home and on the go.

Young man in a public cafe on a call via his laptop iStock

Hotspot usually refers to the latest “it” place or must-visit travel destination—but in the tech world, it’s also the term for a wireless access point you can create with a smartphone or a dedicated standalone device to link to the internet.

While it may sound ethereal, what a hotspot does is actually quite simple: It enables you and others to stay wirelessly connected to the web, almost anywhere and anytime. Here’s what you need to know about hotspots for home and business, and how to access them on your own.

What is a Wi-Fi hotspot?

You may hear a hotspot referred to as a personal hotspot, mobile hotspot, Wi-Fi hotspot or portable hotspot, but all of these terms point to the same thing: wireless internet access. Hotspot functionality can come in handy if you’re working remotely, traveling or simply need to connect when you’re on the move.

There are two choices for creating a hotspot:

  • Use your smartphone: Turn on your smartphone’s settings to provide a tethered hotspot. Watch this short video for step-by-step instructions for iOS and Android users.
  • Use a dedicated device: Purchase a standalone wireless device—also called an adapter—like one of these from T-Mobile, and you can connect several phones, computers or tablets to the internet at once.

How do internet hotspots work?

All hotspots work by connecting a smart device or computer to the internet. But when do you need a dedicated hotspot device instead of your phone? The answer hinges on what phone you have—and what you want to do.

Most smartphones can be used as mobile hotspots, but depending on the network (4G versus 5G), download and upload speeds can be slow. And depending on your cellular plan, data caps may apply.

Use your smartphone hotspot if:

  • You’re working remotely or traveling and need internet access.
  • You want to send email.
  • You need to send or receive small files.

Use a hotspot device if:

  • Multiple people need wireless access.
  • You need robust speed and power.
  • You’re transferring large data loads.
  • You require robust access for gaming.

Where are public mobile hot spots?

Today, Wi-Fi hotspots are available in many public places, including airports, hotels, colleges, coffee shops, libraries and even restaurants.

But despite their prevalence, it’s important to exercise caution when using a public hotspot because these networks are often unsecured. This means that if you use a public hotspot to access private information—like your bank account, social media account or personal email—your data could possibly be seen by others, including scammers and thieves.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots may also share your personal data with the Wi-Fi provider. A good rule of thumb is to use a public hotspot only for going to public websites.

Mobile hotspots make it a snap to stay connected, but be picky about where you connect—and stay vigilant about what you access so you can keep your data safer in cyberspace.

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